Amid projections of improving milk prices, increasing feed costs have many dairy producers concerned.
A common question is “How do we make a profit with $4/bushel corn?”
The issue isn’t just that corn alone is projected to hit price levels. Right or wrong, corn and soybean prices directly or indirectly drive the price of most other feed ingredients.
We can’t (and won’t try to) predict what grain prices will be in the future. How should we deal with “what is”? Unfortunately, there are no magic bullets or quick fixes.
Feed analysis and ration
balancing is critical
Don’t skimp. The best initial strategy is to make sure the basics are done and done well. Forages should be tested and rations balanced.
Yes, feed testing is another expense, yet the possibility of being able to reduce protein supplements when feeding the current haylage will more than pay for the test.
Conversely, adding a bit more protein or energy when you get into the next bag of corn silage or cutting of hay, based on a new feed analysis, can save money by not losing production or perhaps reproductive efficiency. You can’t fine-tune a ration based solely on the appearance of a new feed.
Consider feed options
The Midwest has traditionally fed corn- and corn silage-based rations because corn grows well here and is relatively cheap. The “cheap” part may or may not continue to be the case.
We’ll have to keep open minds and consider other diets if we see a continued price shift.
Review heifer and
dry cow rations
When was the last time forages were tested for these animals? At current feed prices, it can pay to tweak these rations as well.
You can test and balance religiously, and still have opportunities to improve feed utilization. How much feed that goes into storage actually makes it into the target animal? What percent of purchased feeds get into and through an animal?
Factors including storage, handling and miscellaneous losses. Storage losses are as varied as moldy feed in the top layers of a bunker or tower silo, seepage from silage harvested too wet, to moldy spots in bags and wrapped bales where poor packing or unpatched holes allowed air to damage feed.
Feed can be wasted during unloading, mixing, and feeding.
Are bulk feeds sheltered to minimize water and wind damage? Are spilled feeds swept back into the pile or driven over till they “disappear”?
How accurate is mixing and feeding? Are the mixer scales accurate? How accurate are measurements for grains that may be fed by scoop or shovel or wheelbarrow?
Having witnessed several feeding styles, it is fair to say that actual amounts of feed fed can vary significantly by who is at the other end of the scoop, shovel or wheelbarrow. Is there an alternate way of measuring feed that minimizes variation between feeders?
Finally, how protected are your feeds from rodent and bird damage? Both in-storage and feedbunk losses can be significant. If your farm receives awards from the Audubon Society for supporting large bird populations, it is time to call the ODNR for help.
Whether you grow all of your feeds, purchase all of your feeds, or fall somewhere in between, attention to the basics and the details will pay. Testing forages, adjusting ration formulations, minimizing storage, mixing and delivery losses all play a part in controlling feed costs on our dairy farms.